Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Lords of Salem ~ A Review of Rob Zombie's Latest Horror Flick



“Something about it really upsets me.”

The Lords of Salem - Modern day Coven.Rob Zombie films are an acquired taste.  His films, although ambitious, have a tendency to aspire for something great, but fall short.  The same is true with "The Lords of Salem.”  Staring Zombie's wife Sheri, the duo continues down the path of hard-core horror.  Released officially in only 354 theaters on Friday, April 19, "The Lords of Salem," attract only the truly devoted.  Zombie's visuals are shocking, stunning, and somewhat uneven.  The story is not all together new, but what is, now a days?  The music is orchestral and disturbing.  The film is rated R, and the director takes full advantage of the rating and all it implies.  This is Rob Zombie's fifth feature film, with 2007's Halloween grossing the most with $58.2 million, the most of all his films.

Lords of Salem - Poster
Not only did Zombie direct "The Lords of Salem," he wrote the story and screenplay too.  The story centers solidly on the dread-locked Heidi Laroc (Sheri Zombie), a late night DJ on an Indy station.  Heidi and the two Hermans form the “Big H” radio team that features the late night hard-core shock-rock radio format.  As her co-hosts, Jeff Daniel Phillips plays Herman "Whitey" Salvador.  You may remember Phillips from his Geico Caveman commercials.  The other Herman is played by Ken Foree.  His credits include George Romero's 1978 classic "Dawn of the Dead," as well as Zac Snyder's remake in 2004.  Foree was also in 1989's "Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III," and in the 2008 Serbian flick "Zone of the Dead." 

Set in present day Salem Massachusetts, Zombie takes advantage of the towns wicked past.  He does this by showing us not only the witch trials led by Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne.  Historically, the interrogator in 1696 was a Magistrate by the name of John Hathorne.  Poetic license, I suppose.  Introducing us to what takes place when a coven of witches comes together in the forest to perform rituals petitioning Satan.  These scenes are shocking and disturbing with a quality of horror films of the 70's.  In the 1696 scenes, there is a coven of cavorting naked hags led by Margaret Morgan (Meg Foster), performing a ”Rosemary's" baby type of birthing ritual.  When it comes to disturbing visuals, Rob Zombie doesn't pull any punches.

Lords of Salem - Demon PriestThe first act, of a three-act story, is usually the longest.  The director does this in order to take time in creating the environment and building his characters.  Heidi's world is what I would describe as Bohemian at best.  Although her show, “The Big H” radio team is the top rated in there market, she lives a humble life.  She walks everywhere she goes; she lives in an old house, where it seems she is the only tenant.  We don't see anyone else living there but we do get a glimpse of the person that lives in the dreaded room #5. Heidi's landlady, Lacy Doyle (Judy Geeson), upon being questioned about the "new" tenant in #5, replies "Oh, I hate to break it you but there is no one in number 5." 

The real acting comes about when Lacy brings in her two other lady friends.  The most interesting one is Megan, played by the red haired Patricia Quinn ("Rocky Horror Picture Show").  her character is not only prim and proper, as in style of the British, she is downright creepy.  Dee Wallace of “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial,” and “Cujo” fame plays Megan's and Lacey's other friend, Sonny.  Sonny too gives off the properness of a classy older woman, while exuding a vibe that is downright sinister.  These three women's acting is what makes this film standout.  However, their scenes, which start out powerful, tend to lose momentum, as Zombie, holds the camera on them just a bit too long in the dim light, thereby encumbering the scene's flow. 



Working a late night radio gig has a tendency to mess with ones' psyche.  I know this for a fact as I DJ'd the graveyard shift in the minor LA market back in the early 90's.  Not helping is that Heidi has a drug or drinking problem.  It isn't clear which one it is, but she has one.  This is where I have an issue with either the direction, or the editing.  There are times when Zombie and cinematographer Brandon Trost tend to follow Heidi around in a somewhat languid fashion.  However, it turns out these scenes tend to be somewhat gratuitous, as they don't seem to have any relevance to Heidi, or the story.  While at other times, like when we Sheri leaving a group of people, sitting in circles, we realize, only in passing, our protagonist has addiction issues.
Understanding Heidi's state of mind is important to determine if the events around her are actually happening, or are these just "psychotic beliefs brought on by a delusional state of mind.”  


Lords of Salem - The Lords Are Coming
Believing that she was sent a promotional album, and not finding any additional information about it, except that it came from the “Lords,” She takes it home and she and Herman Whitey give it a listen.  The other Herman dubs the album’s vocalists, which he supposes a band, as “The Lords of Salem.”  Heidi plays the vinyl album, and finds the music disquieting.  Zombie intersperses a heavily orchestrated musical score with songs by the likes of Lou Reed, Rush Bach, Motzart, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, and even the song “Sugar,” sung by Vic Damone.  While not forgetting his hard-core rock roots, the creative duo throws in "Crushing the Ritual," by Leviathan the Fleeing Serpent.  Which probably are just Rob Zombie and DJ 5?  The unfortunate thing about the music selection is that Zombie relies too heavily on the music to set the mood and create the tension.  John-5's theme for the film however, is disturbingly effective.  The dissonance that the melody creates is, indeed, memorable. 

As the film progresses, we meet Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) and his wife Alicia (Maria Conchita Alonso).  Matthias is a local historian, and curator at the town's wax museum. He begins to reveal layers of truth behind the "actual" Salem Witch Trials.  In the last act, the pacing quickens and the imagery becomes, more strangely, spectacular and less coherent.  Characters are lost, and action becomes confusing and inconsistent.  I wonder if Rob Zombie's intent was to overwhelm the audience's senses hoping that they won't notice the issues with the plot.

"The Lords of Salem" is not for the casual moviegoer, nor is it for your average horror film fan.  This film may not even be for die-hard Rob Zombie fans.  Those who watch this film, though confused, will find the concepts interesting, the symbolism is a curiosity, and in some parts of the film captivating.


Movie Data

Genre:  Horror, Thriller
Year:  2013
Staring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips,Ken Foree, Sid Haig
Director: Rob Zombie
Producer(s): Rob Zombie,
Writer: Rob Zombie,Oren Peli,Jason Blum,Andy Gould,Steven Schneider
Rating: R